A digital wireless communications system – GSM for railway, or GSM-R – is being deployed to improve the Passenger Rail Agency of South Africa’s (PRASA’s) operations and run its rail passenger transport systems more efficiently, says information technology multinational Huawei Railway executive Norman Frisch.
The GSM-R system is a digital train-to-ground communication system based on international wireless GSM standard and European Integrated Radio Enhanced Network specifications for railway communications and applications. Huawei developed and implemented the system in a consortium with Altech Alcom Matomo.
PRASA business development head Piet Sebola notes that 153 GSM-R sites along PRASA’s network have been completed – 75 in Gauteng, 42 in the Western Cape and 36 in KwaZulu-Natal. Additional sites, stations and depots will be added, as well as critical sites along the lines.
“All the sites are currently in the testing and commissioning stages. This is part of the modernisation programme facilitated by effective, uninterrupted communications with trains and drivers. We are also training our drivers and maintenance crews. “The contract with the consortium will see them provide the maintenance support for two years, as PRASA builds its own capacity to support the R600-million, over-five-years investment,” he says.
The new communication system will link with the broader upgrade and investment programmes being rolled out by PRASA, including new stations and new trains, resulting in the improvement of its rail infrastructure.
The consortium’s end-to-end GSM-R solution offers mission-critical rail operational voice and data functions, which enable train drivers, controllers, signalling engineers and crew members to perform routine operations more efficiently and reliably.
“It will also provide communication services for automatic train protection systems and introduce [the enabling of] semiautomatic train driving capacity in the network, thereby further improving the reliability and safety of the rail operation, along with opportunities to increase track capacity. This will significantly improve customer satisfaction and passenger safety,” says Frisch.
The solution comprises an Internet Protocol soft-switch core network that improves data transmission efficiency, simplifies network management tasks, reduces operating costs and supports the smooth evolution from the legacy systems to the future railway mobile communication systems currently being specified by the International Union of Railways.
The widely used Huawei distributed base station technology implements quick and flexible GSM-R radio coverage in places such as railway servitudes including tunnels and cuttings, and at level crossings. Additionally, multiple sites with remote radio unit co-cell technology have been established to expand cell coverage, improve radio quality and reduce cell handovers.
To allow for long-distance GSM-R radio services across provinces, ensure reliable railway operation and facilitate interworking between multivendor devices, state-of-the-art redundancy concepts were applied to the GSM-R network design for PRASA.